Thunder 60 UWS Sirens 43
Manchester Thunder started life at their new home in Belle Vue with a dominant victory over UWS Sirens.
Thunder steam-rolled through their opponents in the opening quarter with power and precision, and it gave them the platform they needed to push on for the remainder of the game.
A loud partisan crowd relished the match-up between starting centre Caroline O’Hanlon, a former Siren, and Thunder stalwart Sara Bayman, who is playing in her first season with the Scottish side.
And it was ultimately the Northern Ireland captain who came out on top on a disappointing return to Manchester for Wigan-born Bayman.
The Black and Yellows broke away to a 10-goal lead by half time. It proved to be unassailable, as the hosts successfully snuffed out any chance of a Sirens comeback in the second half.
Liana Leota, who was named Sky Sports Player of the Match, said Thunder had some ‘hard conversations’ following their off-colour performance against Stars in the opening match of the season.
“We worked on connections between attack and defence in training. We had to have some hard conversations,” she added.
“Sometimes you have to tell a team-mate to pull their finger out. I think we will start to build from this.
“We need to improve our speed in the midcourt and if we can do that, we can beat anyone.
“We get confidence off the defence when they turnover ball – we get confidence to let the ball go.
“There is healthy competition in the team and everyone needs to be on their toes.”
It was O’Hanlon who pulled the strings in the opening exchanges, her range of passing and strength the vital connection between centre court and the shooting circle.
But it was her attacking partner, especially around the D – Liana Leota – who ran the show in the first half, with the Kiwi spearheading Thunder’s flair and confidence.
Thunder’s defence were buoyed by their their in-form, as Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond they were first to rebounds and tips on a number of occasions, especially in the second quarter.
But Sirens were not prepared to roll over, as they produced some special phases of play themselves, making sure they kept in touch in the first quarter.
But Thunder continued their high tempo strategy, with their defenders playing high up the court, constantly hugging the shooting third byline, ready to pounce on any loose balls.
Amy Clinton, starting for the first time this season, produced a mature performance which oozed skill and good technique. The Oldham youngster looks a physically stronger and more assured player compared to what we saw in her breakout 2017 season.
Bayman did grow into the game and produced some of her signature intercepts, while Shantal Slater rewarded a particularly slick attacking move with a neat shot from distance.
The intensity dropped in the third quarter, which may have been down to two Thunder changes, as coach Karen Greig moved Clinton to the bench in place of Joyce Mvula and Bea Skingsley came on for Amy Carter, who had a quieter game compared to her storming debut in the opening game of the season.
Thunder had shaken off the unforced errors and tentative play that littered their poor first half performance in that game against Stars last week.
Despite a tireless first half, Kathryn Turner still had plenty in the tank in the final moments of the game, gracefully making her way across court, shrugging off her defender and in turn won the adoration of watching Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who named her his Player of the Match.
The game petered out with Thunder given the luxury of making sure all 12 members of the match-day squad took to the court before the final whistle, with Beccy Hoult and Dani Bloomfield making their first appearances of the season.
Post game, Kathryn Turner said: “We were more focused today on what we needed to do and stuck to our gameplan. We were more consistent.
“I can’t take all the credit today – my team mates were pulling the space for me to open up my game.
“We needed more intensity in our game – we looked tired at Stars so we tried to life our game this week.”
Tonight’s starting 7s:
Thunder: GK Almond, GD Dovey, WD Carter, C O’Hanlon, WA Leota, GA Turner, GS Clinton
Sirens: Starting 7 to play Thunder: GK Aiken Pinnock, GD Kennedy, WD Brownie, C Bayman, WA Murphy, GA Walker, GS Slater